Month: October 2018

As a Cisgender Woman is my Safety at Risk if Senate Bill 2407 is Upheld? Short answer: obviously not.

By Barbara Conant

On Tuesday November 6th, of 2018 I plan to exercise my right as an American citizen and vote in the general election. I’m particularly excited to vote on question three. Let’s first look at what this Massachusetts ballot question is asking. Question three asks voters if they want to uphold a law that prohibits discrimination in public places based on gender identity. I will vote yes, meaning I will vote to uphold Senate Bill 2407, which passed in 2016, in the hopes to continue prohibiting discrimination.

However, as a cisgender woman I am being asked, for my safety and the safety of children, to vote no. A vote no would repeal Senate Bill 2407 and allow discrimination in public places based on gender identity. Public places meaning coffee shops, locker rooms, schools, hotels, and most controversial: bathrooms.

No-voters seem to believe allowing transgender and genderqueer people to use public accommodations, such as bathrooms, would take away my safety. The logic behind this argument is that men would be allowed, encouraged even, to come into the women’s bathroom and assault women and children.  

This logic disregards the fact that since this law came to place in 2016 there have been no reports of assault from a man abusing this law. This becomes particularly interesting when one notes that in 2015 65% of transgender people in Massachusetts reported discrimination in a public location. Based on this statistic alone I think it’s clear transgender people are inherently more at risk. Nevertheless, I can recognize that opposers truly believe my safety is at risk if I vote yes. I believe their concern stems from feelings of fear and a lack of understanding of people who aren’t cisgender.

I admit that I don’t know many transgender people or genderqueer people but, that does not stop me from wanting to support and understand them. Though I cannot truly understand any transgender experience, I try to empathize as best I can. I have sought out stories of transgender people on social media. Through that I have learned of the traumas people have faced. Such as not going to the bathroom and/or normalizing lower stomach pain to not have to face looks of aggression from other people. As a cis-woman I don’t share that experience. However as a woman of color, it makes me think about times I have been shunned in classrooms for simply being me.

Though the two situations aren’t the same, I believe they are parallel. I can understand the discomfort that stems from being rejected in a place where you have the same goal as everyone else. Just as I don’t want my community of women of color to feel discomfort in a place they belong in, I don’t want any other minority group rejected from places they belong in. In this time of elections, which I would argue matter more due to our current political climate, I feel the need to vote for the rights of others. Let me be explicit, I want transgender and genderqueer people to feel safe going anywhere public. I would go as far as to say that with Senate Bill 2407 I  feel safer in the bathroom and in any other public space knowing that my transgender and genderqueer peers have legal support in their existence.

I realize explaining my stance to liberals is essentially preaching to the choir and therefore does nothing to change the minds of no-leaning people. So what can we, yes-voters, do about that? How can we help people see the humanity in people different than them? I believe one thing we can do is reach out to the American in voters. The United States prides itself on being a land of equal opportunity. This is particularly visible in the American Dream. We, Americans, must keep ourselves aligned with our standards of equality for people in this country. In order to better this country we must remain patriotic and provide equal opportunity for our citizens. Repealing Senate Bill 2407 would be an un-American act and defy what we preach in this country.

I AM FROM

By Nujhat Purnata

I am from the orange mountains

From the land of political correctness

I am by the smelly farms

In the midst of the college bars

The liberal arts,

Where the whiteness arrives after the foliage

And pretends to stay forever

Only for the emergence of greenery

To melt every snowflake

And make way for Spring

I am from the Summer months,

An isolated town and its grassy terrain

I am from the trails,

The wet woods and the squirrels,

The occasional deer

And the surrounding villages

Where the strangers smile

And people hike

     (and bike)

And watch their dogs run

Across the Seven Sisters

And into the sunset

I am from 7000 miles
Away from home

The Main Ingredient of Chocolate: Child Labor

By Sifa Kasongo

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With Halloween just around the corner, children and adults are ready to indulge in chocolate. However, the sweet taste of chocolate is about to turn bitter.

One of the biggest staples for Halloween is candy and chocolate. People all around the world eat it for special occasions, for enjoyment, or just as a late night snack. As the sweetness of chocolate collides with your taste buds, recognize that the sweet taste has a bitter backstory.

More than 70 percent of the world’s supply of cocoa comes from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. This is an industry that generates more than $100 billion per year in consumption value and 10s of billions in profits, yet still brings below-poverty wages for farmers.

U. Roberto Romano, a photographer and human rights advocate, traveled to West Africa to document the lives of child slaves involved in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire.

“The price that we want is a price that is fair to us, but it will not be too much. We only want a little,” said a local farmer that Romano interviewed. “We’ll give you cacao for 1000 CFA, which is $2. That would be good for us.”

Unfortunately, cocoa farmers don’t have much bargaining power over a multibillion-dollar cocoa industry that controls the supply chain and ultimately determines their livelihoods. This results in low wages, which means that farmers cannot hire the labor needed to harvest the crop, so they end up turning to child labor to make ends meet.

Tulane University completed a research in 2013/14 where they found that 2.12 million children were working in cocoa production and 2.03 million were working in hazardous work in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana combined.

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(Courtesy of U. Roberto Romano, A young cocoa laborer in Soubré, Côte d’Ivoire, stands among cocoa trees while holding a machete, which he will use to harvest cocoa pods.)

According to the International Labor Organization, child labor is work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.

They further explain that child labor involves various things such as children being enslaved, separated from their families and exposed to serious hazards and illnesses.

Children working in the cocoa industry are in hazardous conditions because they are exposed to agro-chemicals, work long hours, and carry heavy loads.

Admittedly, I myself hadn’t known about the horrible conditions that children go through. Let alone that children are being deprived of an education and sold to work in cocoa production until this year. I had to do intense research to understand what I now know.

Now, I am advocating and shedding light on this issue because not enough people know what goes on in the cocoa industry.

When I shared this information with one of my friends, one of the comments she made took me by surprise. She said that I shouldn’t be talking about child labor in the cocoa industry when I’m wearing clothes that come from countries that don’t have great labor conditions. This is when I knew she didn’t understand that I wasn’t telling her to stop eating chocolate but just to be aware of how children are being enslaved for us to enjoy the sweet taste of chocolate.

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(Courtesy of U. Roberto Romano)

When Romano interviewed what he called an “enslaved cocoa worker” from Côte d’Ivoire, Vincent, the enslaved boy said, “Tell them, when they are eating chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”

Vincent said this because children on cocoa farms are being underfed, enslaved, trafficked, abused, crippled, and beaten so badly that some even die.

Romano also spoke with an 11-year-old boy who used to be a slave of chocolate.

“I will tell you how I lost my arm. I tried to escape, but I could not. They caught me and tied me to a papaya tree and they beat me and broke my arm,” he said. “From here my life was ruined. It was a shame. They beat me because I asked about food.”

The boy went on to say that to punish them, they took the juice from the cocoa and fermented it. Once it was fermented, it would make the child laborers nauseous and often caused them to lose their balance. When the kids are forced to drink this and they fall, the farmers would pick them back up and beat them. This 11-year-old boy still dreamed about being beaten.

Stories like this are what pushed me to work on and do more research on child labor in the cocoa industry for my honors thesis at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

I am not trying to tell you to stop eating chocolate because you stopping won’t solve the problem. I’m telling you to be aware and take a second before you shove chocolate in your mouth to understand what children in West Africa and even around the world go through for you to enjoy your chocolate.

For more information on child labor in the cocoa industry, check out this documentary that looks at the realities of child labor in the cocoa industry: 

 

UMass Amherst Garbhangra 2018

By Isha Mahajan

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Indian students flocked to Garbhangra in the Student Union Ballroom at UMass Amherst to celebrate the festival season of Navratri, Dussehra, and Diwali on Friday in a colorful and energetic display of South Asian culture through music and dance.  

The event,  hosted by the South Asian Student Association, featured two popular dance styles native to the Indian subcontinent. Garbha is a native dance style originating from the Indian state of Gujarat, where performers predominantly dance in circles around a lit lamp or a figure of Goddess Shakti in celebration of Navratri — a nine-day Hindu Festival in honor of the goddess Durga. Bhangra is another popular dance form prevalent in North India, primarily in the state of Punjab, which involves high energy jumps and dance moves and is often a staple dance at Indian celebrations.

“I went to Garbhangra because I wanted to learn more about my culture, meet people from my community and learn different native dance forms,” said Meghama Banerjee, a sophomore math major.

The event opened at 7pm at the Student Union Ballroom where students from across the community came together to celebrate the end of nine days of Navratri. Navratri is a traditional celebration, which includes various forms of praying, fasting in the name of God and culminates in dancing. The event featured the traditional Garba dance, a line dance which also combines dancing with sticks, in unified formation.

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A few students began by going around in circles dancing to traditional music. Gradually more people joined in to make the circle larger. They danced around a table filled with candles and flowers and many wore traditional outfits like the Ghagra, Kurta, and Cholis.

The evening eventually gave way to more fast-paced bhangra, which is not a traditional dance form practiced during a Navratri celebration but has become a popular style of dance in both India and the West among South Asians. It was established to celebrate the victory of the farmer’s crop growth success when he is ready to bring food to his family’s table during the harvest season.

However, it is now seen as a way of celebrating various occasions like festivals and prayers that are prevalent in the Indian society.

“Bhangra is a high energy dance that doesn’t really need a technique. All you have to do is swing to the rhythm of the music and know how to jump and squat the best you can.” said Shaunak Shah, a resource economics major at UMass.

The room was filled with music, colorful outfits and a sense of unity which was brought into the room with the festival and drew members of other communities as well.